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IMG 1897By BERNIE BELLAN
A couple of issues back I mentioned that I was working with the Rady JCC on creating something we were going to call the Jewish Business Network. The idea for having a Jewish business network in Winnipeg isn’t new.


As a matter of fact, I noted that there have been at least three other attempts to do something like this within the past ten years. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, while each attempt got off the ground, after a while each attempt also failed.
This time around though, several things are different – and should insure the viability of this new network. First, and most important, we have the solid backing of the Rady JCC. Over the years the Rady JCC has established a reputation for innovative programming – and for moving quickly in response to ideas that are put to it.
In an amazingly short period of time Gayle Waxman and Tamar Barr took it upon themselves to offer the Rady JCC’s full support – and apply the necessary resources both to publicize this new group – and to organize its first meeting.

In addition to having the backing of the Rady JCC, the arrival of so many talented newcomers to Winnipeg over the past 15 years or so gives our community a new pool of individuals that not only could offer an immense contribution to the city as a whole, its members could hugely benefit by meeting other newcomers and long-time residents of the city.
The Rady JCC’s outreach coordinator, Julia Kramskoy, who has helped to organize various programs aimed at newcomers to the city, took the initiative in contacting many of those same newcomers, advising them of this new network.
But, only one week before the first meeting, which was scheduled to take place Wednesday evening, July 26, Julia was somewhat pessimistic that no more than 25 or 30 people would actually attend.
What an amazing experience it was then to see at least 80 people (and it might have been more, because some people who were there didn’t sign the registration sheets that were on hand  for attendees to fill out) file into the beautiful garden area of the Asper Campus on a warm July evening.  

As I, myself, walked among the group, introducing myself, I had the pleasure of meeting a fascinating mix of individuals. At one table were seated newcomers to Winnipeg who came respectively from Turkey, Argentina, Brazil, and Israel. During the course of the evening, I also met someone from Germany; others were from Russia. As well, there were many native Winnipeggers  in attendance. Some were older, some younger; there was also an impressive balance between men and women. In short, it was everything that Gayle, Tamar, Julia, and I could have hoped for – and more.

So, what happened at the meeting? Beginning with some welcoming remarks from Tamar Barr, I presided as chair – and, in addition to outlining what I thought the goals of this group should be, I introduced three other terrific speakers, each of whom represented a different cross-section of our very diversified community.
In explaining to those who had come out what I was hoping to see as a result of this new business network, I pointed to previous mistakes that had been committed by other groups that had also attempted to form some sort of Jewish business associations.
I remarked that, in researching other successful Jewish business associations, the one that I had found that impressed me the most was the Montreal Jewish Chamber of Commerce. I had spoken with the dynamic young director of that group, a woman by the name of Jessica Sasportas, who gave me some background about that particular organization. Founded in 1995 with only 85 members to start, the Montreal Jewish Chamber of Commerce now has 5,000 members. What I was surprised to learn from Jessica though – and I mentioned this to the attendees at the July 26 meeting, is that the members of the Montreal organization are predominantly English-speakers. Given that Montreal’s Jewish community has a large French-speaking component, to me that was an indication that, as successful as that particular group has been, it is not as inclusive as one might hope.
That, I said to the group in the garden area, was something that our new Jewish Business Network had to become in order to be successful, i.e. inclusive of as broad a range of Winnipeg’s hugely diversified Jewish community as it could possibly be. Not only that, as Brian Scharfstein, former president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, and Loren Remillard, executive director of the Chamber, told me in a meeting that I had with them several weeks ago when I plumbed them for ideas about where our new network should go, it is essential that it has a gender balance.
Fortunately, many of the individuals who approached me after the meeting were dynamic businesswomen – all of whom offered to become vitally involved in organizing this new group.

As I noted, there were three other speakers who spoke of their own experiences in networking with other businesspeople. The first was Rebecca Sprintz, who herself had started something called the Jewish Networking Association several years ago.
Rebecca, who is an acupuncturist, noted that initially the JNA actually had too many people who wanted to belong. Because there was not a particular venue for holding meetings (the Round Table Restaurant eventually became the regular meeting place), Rebecca said she was forced to limit members to only one representative of any particular profession or business. Thus, for instance, there could be only one lawyer, accountant, real estate representative, and so on. In some ways, Rebecca said, that was a plus; in other ways, it was a drawback. Rebecca herself said that the individuals who now act as her lawyer, accountant, real estate agent, and graphic designer were all people she met through the JNA.
But, she suggested, the greatest failure of the JNA was not to charge dues. “If you don’t have a financial commitment, you don’t come out” to meetings, Rebecca insisted.
I responded to Rebecca saying it was far too early to talk about having dues for this new group. The fact that almost 80 people had come out on a summer evening was as good an indication as any that there was a desire on the part of many members of our community for something like this now, I said.
I did noted that there are other ethnic business associations in Winnipeg, including a Sri Lankan one and a Filipino one (also possibly a Chinese one, but I’m not certain of that). Those ethnic associations maintain an affiliation with the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce  - and that might be something to consider down the road, I said to those in attendance. But – for the time being I said – and because of the Rady JCC’s backing, there is no need to ask members for a financial commitment before joining the Jewish Business Network.

I next introduced Evgeni Morduhovich, who came to Winnipeg from Israel 12 years ago and who now has a successful truck driver training school, known as Buffalo Driver Training. Evgeni displayed a wry sense of humour as he described his own experiences as an entrepreneur.
As a matter of fact, Evgeni told me later, he had been a policeman in Israel. (He actually was with the Border Police; they are the ones you see quelling riots.) But – when he came to Winnipeg the demand was for truck drivers, he said, not for policemen. So – he became a truck driver – without ever having been one in Israel.  In a short time, he and a partner opened a truck driver training school, starting with just one truck. Soon after Evgeni also started a store in West Kildonan known as “Russki Fruski”.
But, it was difficult to sustain two businesses, especially after his partner in the truck driver school left, Evgeni said, so he closed Russki Fruski. In time, his truck driver training business has grown to the point that he now has three trucks and will soon have a fourth, he added.
How did Evgeni network with people when he came here? Russki Fruski introduced him to many other newcomers with whom he’s networked, he explained. Like him, many of them are also entrepreneurs. Evgeni said, “it’s good to be around people who are entrepreneurs…you don’t need to encourage them.” (Later that evening Evgeni told me how impressed he was with this new Jewish Business Network and offered his full support.)

The final speaker July 26 was Jeff Lieberman, someone who is well known not only in the Jewish community, but in the Winnipeg community as a whole. A former president of Folklorama and of the Rady JCC (among other organizations to which Jeff has belonged), Jeff cited his volunteer experience as having been essential to his business success. “I met a lot of people through volunteering,” he noted. “That’s how I learned to get comfortable with people.”
Formerly owner of a promotional products company known as Great Promotional Products Co., Jeff is now owner of another promotional products company: Talbot Marketing. How he came to be involved in the promotional products business is an amusing story – but one we’ll save for a later day.
As far as building a business is concerned, Jeff said “there is no simple solution” to doing that, but “I built my business through a lot of networking”.
During his remarks Jeff produced a bag full of promotional items – which he proceeded to display to the audience – and offer some to anyone who wanted to take one home. “That’s how you do it,” someone later said to me: take every opportunity you can to promote yourself.
One final note about Jeff Lieberman: He has just been elected Chair of the Board of Governors of the University of Manitoba. Congratulations Jeff – (and thanks for the pen).
There was a short question and answer session following Jeff’s remarks. We heard from a diverse range of audience members, including someone from Argentina, someone from Israel, and someone from Brazil – all of whom offered interesting ideas.
As a post script to this article, even as I was writing it, I received a phone call from Tamar Barr, assistant executive director of the Rady JCC, who said she wanted to discuss where we go from here. I told Tamar that I had already heard from many individuals who were prepared to serve on a steering committee for the new group. Others had volunteered to work on creating a website. Both those things are essential first steps to making this group successful.
But, one great thing about working with Tamar: When I said we have to have another meeting in August to build on the momentum and the enthusiasm that was generated at the first meeting, she came up with a date immediately: Thursday, August 31st. As with the first meeting, the next one will also be slated to take place in the garden area of the Campus, with the Multipurpose Room serving as an alternate location in case of inclement weather.
If you would like to be added to the email list of the Jewish Business Network, simply email either me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Julia Kramskoy at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

As an update to this story, which first appeared in the Aug. 2 print issue of the JP&N, we are pleased to announce that Sandy Shindleman, President of Shindico, will be our special guest speaker Aug. 31.